Published by Penguin on September 27, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
A warm, intimate account of the love between Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter Lorena Hickok—a relationship that, over more than three decades, transformed both women's lives and empowered them to play significant roles in one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.
In 1932, as her husband assumed the presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt entered the claustrophobic, duty-bound existence of the First Lady with dread. By that time, she had put her deep disappointment in her marriage behind her and developed an independent life—now threatened by the public role she would be forced to play. A lifeline came to her in the form of a feisty campaign reporter for the Associated Press: Lorena Hickok. Over the next thirty years, until Eleanor’s death, the two women carried on an extraordinary relationship: They were, at different points, lovers, confidantes, professional advisors, and caring friends.
They couldn't have been more different. Eleanor had been raised in one of the nation’s most powerful political families and was introduced to society as a debutante before marrying her distant cousin, Franklin. Hick, as she was known, had grown up poor in rural South Dakota and worked as a servant girl after she escaped an abusive home, eventually becoming one of the most respected reporters at the AP. Her admiration drew the buttoned-up Eleanor out of her shell, and the two quickly fell in love. For the next thirteen years, Hick had her own room at the White House, next door to the First Lady.
These fiercely compassionate women inspired each other to right the wrongs of the turbulent era in which they lived. During the Depression, Hick reported from the nation’s poorest areas for the WPA, and Eleanor used these reports to lobby her husband for New Deal programs. Hick encouraged Eleanor to turn their frequent letters into her popular and long-lasting syndicated column "My Day," and to befriend the female journalists who became her champions. When Eleanor’s tenure as First Lady ended with FDR's death, Hick pushed her to continue to use her popularity for good—advice Eleanor took by leading the UN’s postwar Human Rights Commission. At every turn, the bond these women shared was grounded in their determination to better their troubled world.
Deeply researched and told with warmth and charm, Eleanor and Hick is at once a tender, moving portrait of love and a surprising new look at some of the most consequential years in American history.
ELEANOR AND HICK: THE LOVE AFFAIR THAT SHAPED A FIRST LADY.
That’s one eye-catching title, isn’t it? It certainly captured my attention. With all the fuss now, with some politicians acting like LGBTQ people aren’t even human, it’s amazing to look back in history and see that Eleanor Roosevelt might have had an intimate relationship with Lorena Hickok. They certainly loved each other emotionally, and their letters suggest there was a physical component to their relationship, but we’ll never know for sure.
ELEANOR AND HICK was an interesting read for me. I read some aloud to my mother, who isn’t a book or history person, and she found it interesting as well. The author doesn’t just focus on Eleanor and Hick. This is more a narrative of Eleanor’s years as First Lady and after, the impact she had and the work she did. Included in that narrative is information on the rise of women in the Democratic party, the presidency and policies of FDR, and the many influential women Eleanor knew. The author did hop around a bit chronologically, which could be confusing.
The real brilliance of this book for me was the information on Hick. Hick’s been somewhat lost to history, which is a tragedy, because she did a lot of good stuff. She was the top female reporter of her day, but her relationship with Eleanor overshadowed the rest of her life. After she quit the AP, she never knew if she got a job because of her skills or because she was Eleanor’s friend.
All the additional narrative in the book helps provide a clear picture of those years, but I would have preferred a tighter focus on Eleanor and Hick’s relationship. In particular, I expected to see more of their letters quoted in the book. I didn’t feel like the author convinced me either way that they had a true “love affair.” However, I could see the “shaping” that Hick had on Eleanor, as Hick encouraged her to write the My Day column, to find purpose after FDR’s death, etc.
Overall, ELEANOR AND HICK read more like a dual biography for me than the exploration of a love affair.